Opinion: The Nigerian church and demons of mammon By – FOLA OJO
“Deeper Life Bible Church unveils the biggest and best equipped hospital ever built in Africa. It’s a 10,000-bed capacity mega facility that can see to the needs of well over 35,000 indigent people in a single year…The Surgery section boasts state of the art equipment that rivals Johns Hopkins hospital or any of the best anywhere in the world…”
It read like a long-time-coming fulfilment of a prophetic revelation and divulgence. The message tore up my being like a hot bird’s-beak-paring-knife through a thick pile of frozen Provolone cheese. Then, a combination of anger and excitement trailed. In anger, I muttered asking why it took the Nigerian church this long to do right for the poor. In excitement, I was comforted that at last, one Nigerian church out of at least 10 million is “born again”. As I barrelled through the first two paragraphs of the article, the words, “Johns Hopkins”, leaped at me. I know Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. It’s less than 15 miles from my old dwelling place in Middle River. I know the cutting edge, state-of the-art equipment that make the hospital stand out among global others. I know the staffing pedigree, calibre and capacity. My first son was born there. A Johns Hopkins replica in Nigeria? I felt like packing my bags and heading back to Imesi-Ile forever and not look back. I took to my Twitter handle: “Deeper Life Bible Church unveils a 10,000-bed capacity mega hospital facility… This is what Nigeria needs; not more churches. #SMACKDOWN”. Then, a friend, Joel Nwokeoma, ruptured my joyous mood with a counter-tweet: “You got it wrong, Sir. There’s no such hospital. It was sarcasm you fell for”. Joel’s tweet was a kill-joy. But it was the truth. The article was a satire. Bubbling excitement in me disappeared. And raging anger quickly took its place.
What the church has become is unbecoming. Demons of mammon are sitting pretty on many pulpits. Men of God do everything and anything to grab, grub and unleash control on the laity. The church system in Nigeria is pillaged by greed and sworn allegiance to love of money.
Decades ago, the white man brought churches and schools with free education. The same people who benefitted from the largesse now set up churches and schools with cut-throat unaffordable tuitions. They have forgotten where they are coming from. They remember no longer their poor beginnings. A poor man’s child cannot attend schools built by men who themselves once lived in poverty. They have forgotten that they were salvaged by the big heart of strangers who took their feet out of the miry clay of penury. Not even their conscience puts them in check. We are still waiting to identify that pastor who will build hospitals where the sick can receive free health care, and schools where Nigerian pauperised youths can enrol and get trained without parting with a dime they don’t have. We will not shut our mouths or close our eyes to the church as it morphs into an egress of uncontrollable greed and insensitivity.
The church in the days of the Apostles loved souls. Today’s church loves the dough. In the church of old, men brought substances to the feet of the Master freely and willingly; and into a common purse for a common purpose. The poor got help from a common purse; the needy got fed out of a common purpose. You didn’t have to have money to serve God. Men came without money; and without price. Today’s church is strangulating and manipulating. It is a one-way street where givers keep giving; reprehensible receivers keep receiving and deceiving. Today’s church is a sanctuary of impropriety and indecorum; a beanery of food-fight over money, a clearing house for a free-for-all hustle for gold, race tracks for men who want to be rich by all unholy means necessary, and a Pentecostal gastrointestinal-tube which continuously feeds self-acclaim deans and doyens in Overseers, Bishops, and pastors. Call him a Bishop, Pastor or a G.O, a sincerely holy man must not be avaricious and rapacious. Religious titles without integrity are nothing but a trifling trash. When Jesus returns, will he find faith in the church?
Last summer, an African-American pastor in my city who belongs to a big Black Pentecostal movement purchased a church building for his small congregation. Later on, he ran into a hitch unable to meet his mortgage obligations. His overseer Bishop is a friend of mine, and I asked to approach the “Man of God” bishop for help on his behalf. My pastor friend rejected the idea saying: “If he helps me. He will own part of the building and eventually own it; and own me. He personally owns 60 per cent of churches’ real estate in this town”. I was perturbed. Big Pentecostal pastors have become amassing human machines and symbolisms of greed. Pastors toiling in big religious organisations are severely repressed and oppressed especially if you are not churning out money to overseer Bishops and Apostles. Nepotism, unaccountability, bribery, corruption, and vast inimical iniquities are now not only peculiar to our governments, they now reside in the church. Some Nigerian pastors need to remove the logs in their eyes before condemning or correcting a corrupt government official with only specks around his eyebrows. Behaviours going on in their churches are capable of waking up mafioso Al Capone from his grave. Are we serving Jesus or pursuing the Doctrine of Judas who pursued 30 shekels of silver until he died before his time?
Jesus made it clear that service to God is not serving self. Mark 9:35 “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” Apostle Paul corroborated Jesus’ assertion when he said that: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” Philippians 2:4. The church is a citadel of service to humanity; and a place to build up destinies of men, women and children through everyday community service. Faith is failing the people and it needs to be reformed; first in the minds of those who are camouflaging champions of what Jesus’ teachings stand for. The church needs to be actively engaged where decadence, poverty, and needs are in the society and disengage from self-serving activities that only pad up pockets of pastors.
Although it is difficult to ascertain incomes of Nigerian churches, it was reported that the income of one mega church with branches home and abroad was about $5m from weekly contributions alone. At least, three pastors have private jets and two of them have at least two. Catholic Charities in America has more than 2,500 local agencies that serve 10 million people annually. The church provides about 40 per cent of social services in the US. The 18,000 Catholic parishes spend an average of $200,000 on the needy every year beyond what they contribute to any of these charitable organisations. In 2010, Catholic Charities USA reported expenditures of between $4.2bn and $4.4bn. If Nigerian churches have successfully copied the American gospel of prosperity and arm-twisting people to raise money, can we do the same in charity?
Clergies have the right to be blessed with material assets. God has not asked his servants to live and die poor. We live not in medieval days of nuns and monks in monasteries who swore to the oath of poverty. But a servant of God must not be about gold but about God who loves the poor. Servants of God must not remain like gasoline station attendants caring only for clients who show up weekly for refills with money in their pockets. There are about 120 million poor people in Nigeria; they must not be forgotten by the blessed Nigerian church. Punch